About etiquetteer.com

Etiquetteer is known socially as Robert B. Dimmick. A native of Louisiana, Mr. Dimmick emigrated North for education, finally settling in that Athens of America, Boston, Massachusetts.

Mr. Dimmick spent his childhood attending weddings, reading Emily Post’s Etiquette, and being teased and taunted by other children for minding his mother, taking everything the preacher said seriously, and generally being a Good Boy. This ultimately led to an aversion to organized sports, television, and popular culture in general, and definite opinions about everything from restaurant dining to wedding dresses to historic preservation. Mr. Dimmick believes in the sartorial legacy of President Harry S Truman, getting out of the way of oncoming traffic quickly, and the tasteful expression of free speech. He is, all too often, willing to express an opinion on just about anything.

By day, Mr. Dimmick plans class reunions for one of those great big universities. By night he enjoys club openings, dinner parties, memoirs of the Fabulous, yoga, the music of the American songbook, and spirited conversation with friends. He invites you to behave with Perfect Propriety whether you want to or not.


Man-spreading *shudder*, Vol. 13, Issue 61

December 20th, 2014 . by Etiquetteer

A reader has encouraged Etiquetteer to speak out on the issue of men sprawling beyond the limits of their seats on public transporation, which has been given the Vulgar Appellation of “man-spreading.” Indeed, this issue has become such a Menace to Public Decency that the MTA has inaugurated a campaign to curb it.

A gentleman does not take up someone else’s space. And that should be quite sufficient.

Really, Etiquetteer compares this Ostentatious Behavior to blaring one’s car radio (or do we have to call it “sound system” now?) outside the limits of one’s car, or revving one’s motor to call attention.

In short, Etiquetteer considers Excessive Sprawl advertising one’s shortcomings.

What a Lady Wears: Tiaras in the Workplace, Vol. 13, Issue 60

December 17th, 2014 . by Etiquetteer

Last week Etiquetteer and That Mr. Dimmick Who Thinks He Knows So Much had a bit of a disagreement about ladies wearing tiaras in the workplace. That Mr. Dimmick, of course, thinks it’s outrageous and Improper to wear a tiara in the workplace and that it’s the result of the Disney Princess culture. Lorelei Lee was always looking for new places to wear diamonds, but the office wasn’t one of them. Etiquetteer is ambivalent, since hair ornaments have a more varied history, but of course would rather see these ladies turn their attention to Perfectly Proper kid gloves and Mainbocher two-piece suits. Or even Hillary Clinton’s “velvet arc of control” from the 1992 presidential campaign, which has the advantage of not glittering before 5:00 PM.

Since neither Etiquetteer nor That Mr. Dimmick is a Powerful Woman in the Workplace, Etiquetteer turned to a genuine Powerful Woman in the Workplace, Christina Wallace, Founding Director of BridgeUp: STEM, who had this to say:

“I can see your point that an actual tiara in the workplace is entirely inappropriate and juvenile, but the photographs in the New York Times piece (ignoring Lady Gaga and the Kardashian, as I tend to do in general*) show not a crown but simply a jeweled headband, which I find polished and lovely. I actually agree with some of the women quoted that the jeweled headband (or diadem as one woman referred to it) increases the sophistication of a ponytail or bun. So while there is likely a fine line between appropriate and over-the-top (I would refrain from wearing anything that could double as a wedding-day headpiece), I think jeweled headpieces are welcome in the boardroom. Just don’t call them a tiara (indeed, I might venture that labeling a headband a “tiara” is bordering on sexism).”

With this endorsement of the practice, Etiquetteer will now set down some ground rules:

  • Your Daytime Diadem should not detract from you. Come evaluation time, you’ll be judged on how well you met your goals, not how much Faceted Radiance you shed in the board room. As Auntie Mame famously said to Agnes Gooch about an evening dress, “You’re supposed to dominate it!” And while we really shouldn’t be looking to the movies for etiquette advice, Etiquetteer can’t help remembering David Brian advising Joan Crawford in The Damned Don’t Cry, “A beautiful woman never wears anything that detracts attention from her face.”
  • Your Daytime Diadem should not increase your height appreciably.
  • Your Daytime Diadem should not look like you could wear it to the senior prom.
  • Your every hair should be in place and not blowing about all tangled and casual. This kind of jewelry is only going to attract more attention to your head, so there will be more opportunity for co-workers to notice Tonsorial Neglect or Error.

Now, let’s all get back to work!

Issue 60 of Volume 13 of Etiquetteer marks a milestone, the largest number of columns published yet in a single volume. Thank you, readers!

*Etiquetteer adds: As all Perfectly Proper People should.

What a Lady Wears to a Ball, Vol. 13, Issue 59

December 16th, 2014 . by Etiquetteer

Dear Etiquetteer:

I have been invited to attend the Governor’s Inaugural Ball in January, a black tie event. My escort is an older widowed gentleman who is a member of the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company (and will be part of the inauguration). I’m a woman of a certain older age and have never been asked to such a thing before! Can you advise me, in a general way, what to wear? I’m a nervous wreck!

Dear Invited:

What an honor to be invited to such an august occasion! While this may be a novel experience for you, ladies have been agonizing about what to wear for millennia, and what you see as a predicament will actually be a lot of fun.

A black-tie ball calls for a long gown with matching shoes. This may be why so many ladies choose black, which Etiquetteer finds rather overdone. But it is said that plain satin shoes may be dyed to match; Etiquetteer encourages you to inquire at your local shoe store. A ball is also a wonderful excuse to bring out any real jewelry you have. Diamonds are a girl’s best friend, as the song goes, and a girl should be able to give her friends a good time every once in awhile.

Regardless of your politics, Conservative Good Taste should guide you in your selection of gown. Don’t go to extremes. In other words, don’t let your decolletage plunge too low, nor your hemline too high, nor your sparkle too blinding. This is even more important since you identify yourself as Woman of a Certain Age, and it is more Perfectly Proper to present oneself with dignity and style rather than boldness and fads. Because this is your first ball and you want to attract attention for the right reasons - which means blending in, not standing out - Etiquetteer would suggest that you stay away from gowns with hoops or enormous puffy petticoats.

While not as popular in America as they ought to be, Etiquetteer encourages you to consider Perfectly Proper white gloves to wear with your gown. You’ll find a link to a glover on Etiquetteer’s links page.

Holiday Gift Giving, Vol. 1, Issue 25

December 11th, 2014 . by Etiquetteer

This was originally published on November 23, 2002.

Dear Etiquetteer:

My older brother is deeply in debt. I don’t see him very often because he lives in another state and we’ve never been very close. Is there any polite way I can let him know that in lieu of buying and mailing me a gift and getting more into debt, I’d prefer that he redirect that money toward paying off his debts? Personally, I’m not into gift giving and would prefer to make a donation to a charity in his honor or do community service.

This ties in with another gift-related question. My parents have retired and I know that their retirement income took a hit due to the stock market. In the past we’d talked about reducing the amount of family gift giving, and I’d like to broach the subject again. Any suggestions?

Dear Gifted and Astute:

Etiquetteer thanks you for raising this sensitive issue, with which so many well-meaning people wrestle in their attempts to alleviate the spending of others. Christmas has become so heavily identified with the exchange of gifts that many remain blind to the True Spirit of Christmas, the expression of Love.

It is never good manners to tell people how to spend money on you, so you’re skating on thin ice to tell your brother how to spend money on himself. Has he made it a practice to send you a gift each year? While you may not consider yourselves close, he could feel stung were you to announce that you’d prefer not to continue the one annual ritual that reinforces your connection.

Etiquetteer rarely recommends candor but believes you must be completely honest with your brother. Not about his debts, but about your aversion to holiday giving. This is more than Lovely Note material; a Lovely Letter is in order. Write and say as beautifully as you can that you’ve reached a stage in life where tangible things mean far less to you than people, including him. Recall for him in your letter particular memories of childhood (good ones, please), and express the wish that he do the same for you this Christmas. If he is as in debt as you suggest, Etiquetteer thinks he will leap at the chance to avoid getting you another gift certificate.

The formula changes only slightly with your parents, since you’ve discussed it before. Write or telephone “Mamma dear, remember once we talked about not putting so many things under the Christmas tree? Let’s do that this year and just give each other one little present apiece instead of a galaxy of gifts.” Don’t allude to their reduced income; fixing on your own disinclination to exchange presents will spare them embarrassment.

Etiquetteer is delighted to see your interest in charity and volunteer service, but urges you not to fall into the self-satisfying delusion that these activities will be considered gifts by the persons to whom you designate them.

Dear Etiquetteer:

I have problems about money gifts. First, the gift of money to friends and family. Unless one is in dire straits or the group is combining resources for an expensive item not suitable for shipping, sending money is like paying a bill: One writes a check to the credit card company, a check to the electric company, and a check to Georgie. And Happy Holiday.

Worse are the parents who say their teenager wants nothing less than a car so please send him/her money. These are also the parents to teach them that an endorsement on a check is a thank-you note.

Next, the custom of the Christmas List. First, it’s tots who write to Santa. Sweet, cute, adorable, okay. Secondly, adults who make lists of stuff they want people to give them. I consider this the ultimate of tacky but to give that person something you know in advance they don’t want . . . ugh!

Dear Exasperated:

Etiquetteer shares your preference for not giving gifts of money, your aversion to parents blind to all but the knowledge that they can’t afford a car for Junior, and your observation that adults have no business circulating their own gift lists unbidden. What if someone sent around a list of things one wanted and nobody was planning to get one a gift anyway?! One then looks like a greedy fool — or a rapacious bride. To maintain a wish list at, say, amazon.com for one’s own reference is Perfectly Proper. It’s quite another thing to send everyone one knows a link to it.

That said, intentionally giving someone something one already knows is unwelcome — the classic example is the fur coat to the vegetarian — would certainly affront them. If you are approaching the holiday season with that sort of fierce-hot malice, Etiquetteer invites you to look deep into your heart (are you looking?) and to remember that Christmas is a time for healing, not hurting. If you cannot plan a present for someone in a spirit of Love, then perhaps you had better not give any presents at all. Use your shopping time to sit quietly and reflect on What and Who is Important to You, and Why. When you’ve figured it out, then you will be ready to give in a Perfectly Proper Spirit.

All this talk about the True Spirit of Giving forces Etiquetteer to recall that Christmas Custom to Create Camaraderie, the Secret Santa. For those not initiated in this Joyous Holiday Ritual, it involves everyone in an office or dormitory drawing names from a hat. (Does anyone really still wear a hat?) One then goes about preparing secret gifts and surprises on a periodic basis for the person whose name one drew to generate holiday excitement. Everyone’s Secret Santa is revealed at a holiday party just before Christmas or after Finals.

It has been Etiquetteer’s misfortune in these Exercises in Enforced Gaiety to draw either a complete stranger or sworn enemy. After a giftless two weeks, Etiquetteer always receives the apologies of the one person in the group who was too busy, lazy, or forgetful to bother to do a *@#! thing. Merry Christmas!

But Etiquetteer will never forget the exquisitely wrapped box left on his office chair by his last Secret Santa. Opening it with excitement in the presence of colleagues who “just happened” to be there, Etiquetteer burrowed through layers and layers of red and green tissue to find a carefully chosen lump of coal.

Since then, the Scrooge & Marley sign has remained firmly on Etiquetteer’s office door, but Etiquetteer is always more than ready to quaff a Beverage of Festivity at the Office Party.

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